The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. William C. Dement. It is fitting that our friend Bill passed peacefully in his sleep, in the early morning hours of June 17, 2020. Bill’s pioneering and expansive work touched millions of people around the globe, and he received NSF’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.
His contributions to the sleep field began as a medical student at the University of Chicago where he helped discover the link between dreaming and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep. He coined the terms REM and NREM sleep which are now universally known. After completing both his MD and PhD degrees, Bill first went to New York City where he discovered the link between sleep onset REM periods and narcolepsy, among other groundbreaking work. He then relocated to Stanford University where he established the first successful medical clinic devoted to sleep disorders. Bill worked alongside Dr. Christian Guilleminault to establish the clinical specialty of sleep medicine, including helping to create the first medical journal devoted to the field, Sleep. He also created the first university course devoted to the topic, Sleep and Dreams, which became the most popular course in Stanford history. Bill was a renaissance man, who as an accomplished upright bass player was instrumental in helping establish the jazz program at Stanford. Bill also was active in social justice on campus.
Among Bill’s many scholarly accomplishments were his contributions to a distinctive body of literature including authorship of hundreds of scientific publications, co-authorship of the authoritative textbook in sleep medicine Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, and authorship of the national bestseller The Promise of Sleep. He will be known and celebrated throughout the world as one of the founders and legends in the field. A tribute to Bill was previously produced by Stanford University in commemoration of his 80th birthday and 45 years of service to the university. Importantly, perhaps the greatest part of Bill’s legacy will be his devotion to and tireless work raising awareness in the general public and in government about the importance of sleep health. Bill Dement’s vision is at the core of NSF’s mission and commitment to improving sleep health and well-being, and we are grateful to have known Bill and worked with him.